Illness-Related Stigma in the Israeli Press: Media Coverage of Severe Physical Illnesses: Brief Report

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Purpose: Illness-related stigma is argued to be largely shaped by the mass media. While scant research on the ways through which the media covers stigmatized illnesses does exist, there remains a need for a more generalizable model to predict the way any given physical illness would be covered in the media, and in particular, the ways that stigmatized illnesses would be covered. The aim of this exploratory study was to examine the relationship between the ascribed degree of disease stigma and its coverage in the media. Methods: We conducted a survey of 954 randomly sampled articles over a 12-month period from five newspapers in Israel. The ascribed degree of disease stigma was measured via a questionnaire designed for the purpose of this study, which was completed by 26 experts. Two aspects of media coverage of physical illnesses were measured via content analysis: what content is presented in the media and how the content is covered. Results: We found that the more stigmatized the illness, the more coverage it received. Very stigmatized illnesses tended to appear in weekend/holiday editions and on the front page of the newspaper, in articles which mentioned behavioral or lifestyle related risk factors as well as in articles that represented foreigners as placing others at risk for illness. Very stigmatized diseases tended to be covered as metaphors, i.e. used as symbols for foul social phenomena. These illnesses also tended to be described by military and apocalyptic metaphors. Conclusions: Our findings imply that “very stigmatized” diseases are constructed as salient issues, presented as blame-able phenomena, and perceived as conveying major risk to the social and moral order. Social fears need to be understood and addressed when designing policy and, particularly, media campaigns, in order to eradicate illness-related stigma.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-33
Number of pages6
JournalStigma research and action
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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